No, not around the eyes!

Before searching any further for the merits and validity of hypnosis, I’d like to hear your take on it. And specifically the type of hypnotic skills deployed during amusing public performances. You know the sort: a comic hypnotist performs a quick “susceptibility test”, then he picks some members out of the audience, tells them that they are getting heavy, and getting sleepy, and getting more and more like a tumble-drier. And then everyone finds the suddenly gyrating little motley crew very funny.

Has anyone with a skeptical bent been hypnotized in this way? Does it really work? It is common knowledge - accurate or not - that one cannot be forced to do things under hypnosis that you won’t be game for ordinarily. Which says probably a bit too much about the “contestants”! :wink:


I think it goes down pretty much as advertised: Guy picks out people who are easily suggestible, and goes ahead and suggests stuff to them. Whether they do the crazy stuff just to not spoil the show for everyone else… that’s something I’ve wondered about before.

A colleague told me how a hypnotist cured him of his smoking habit… But then, it’s the same guy who tried to convince me “power bracelets” were completely legit because he could feel it.

But hey, if the placebo effect saves your life… why not?

Sure, there may be a handful of natural clowns in any audience willing to fake it, but it seems like a lot for the performing hypnotist to bank on. But then again, to accept that they are truly in some altered state of mind is equally unlikely.


My uncle was in some respects a bit of a flake. But in his younger days he would sometimes hypnotize people as a party trick. I remember an occasion where he convinced a young lady that her boots were burning her, so she shrieked and kicked them out. Or something like that; I was probably no older than four or so.

Anyway, he once related to me that was trying to help a guy quit smoking, so he hypnotized him and suggested to him that from now on, cigarettes would taste unbearably bitter. Two weeks later he got a frantic call from the guy requesting him to undo the suggestion.

“Why, didn’t you stop smoking”? my uncle asked.
“No,” said the guy. “I’m still smoking, except now the damn cigarettes all taste bitter as hell.”


Hypnotism is real and if done by a professional quite safe. However, there are case studies where post hypnotic suggestions were not properly “removed” resulting in strange effects much later…much like the bitter cigarette case you mention (in that instance, the addiction to the cigarettes was stronger than the distaste for bitterness). It has been shown that a person could be induced to do something they would not have done in a “waking” state such as murder someone. What the hypnotist would suggest for example is that the murder weapon is a toy : “point it and shoot the victim” or convince the subject that his/her life is being threatened and they must protect themselves. Most sensations of Pain can easily be neutralised under hypnosis (for example squashing a lit cigarette on to your arm)…It should however be understood that hypnosis has limitations. For example, it cannot normally be used in most cases of the mentally ill: the key to successful hypnosis is that the subject must be able to concentrate sufficiently to “go under”…this is not normally the case with mental patients. It is also stated that only about 27% of persons are “good subjects” and a similar % not susceptible at all, hence the practice of testing for susceptibility in stage shows which incidentally has done much to harm the reputation of hypnosis as a recognized therapy. It is said that the more intelligent a person is the easier it is normally (if prepared to undergo it)to hypnotise him/her.

Interesting stuff, Brian.

Hypnosis is, like those posters of the early 90s that you have to glare at in a slightly cross-eyed and myopic way to tease out the hidden three dimensional kitten, a bit of a mystery to me. I see others deeply affected by it, but can neither explain the mechanism why it should work, nor had a successful hit myself. Frustrating, and a pity, really, to miss out on a chunk of reality like that.


It is almost like a “hit” LOL. One of the misconceptions is that you are “asleep”…not. It is only when the hypnotist suggests that you will not remember what took place when you’re “under” that you “wake up” in total ignorance of what happened. Another misconception is that the Hypnotist “controls” you: Hypnotism is essentially self-hypnosis: the hypnotist merely acts to take you through the steps to allow your own powers of concentration to “block out” the conscious and allow the sub-conscious to take over and this is where the real danger lies: the so-called sub-conscious mind does not question stuff and accepts blindly what is input into it. Thus you are told you are naked in the South Pole and you start to shiver…your conscious mind would have rejected that as nonsense. It is more complex but that in a nutshell is what happens.

So what happens to sensory input … do we still believe our eyes when we are “under” or do we only see what we are told to see? And if we do see differently when hypnotized, what then about reality? I mean, if we are capable of this subconcious existence in which our senses work differently, who is to say that the real reality is not the one as we experience in a subconcious state, rather than a conscious one?

And also, I can’t help but draw a parallel to religion here (don’t we always :stuck_out_tongue: ::)): Could it be that religious people are simply all walking around in various degrees of hypnotic states?!


PS: Brian, why do you know so much about this stuff? Psychology major?

Could it be that religious people are simply all walking around in various degrees of hypnotic states?!
LMFAO...absolutely especially when they go through their faces when they praise the lord!!! On your question, Yes I majored in Psych among others (Undergrad) carried on to Economics Post grad. But I also studied hypnosis and practised it on family and friends. In one such I hypnotised a guy to lay his head on a chair and feet only on another: then got an adult to sit on his stomach...he stayed straight as a rod...then woke him and asked him to do the same...could not get even close!

So to try to answer a complex question: It depends on the hypnotist’s suggestions…a good subject could zap in and out of hypnosis without anybody knowing merely on the basis of a “trigger” say a particular word for example and out on another. If the subject is not instructed to “forget” he’ll be totally aware what took place.

Now Tele may like your question re reality, but being a realist myself, I trust my conscious mind regardless of the fact that it is faulty, biased and subjective. The existence of a sub conscious is often questioned and using it “consciously” seems like a contradiction. However, most sport-persons use it constantly during their conditioning: Gary Player used to say “Imagine the hole on the green to be 1 foot wide”…it becomes ingrained and although you may still miss the hole, if properly used you will in all likelihood improve your putting merely by “imagining” it. Experiments have been done in Psych on this as well and while I don’t have references immediately at hand, these seemed to corroborate it. There are many books on the Power of the sub-conscious: eg and a lot of bullshit as well.

When religions use music (usually very rhythmic) and sometimes combined with hallucinatory drugs, subjects go into trances which is a state of hypnosis…thus you find that those Shiites who whip them selves in a frenzy feel no pain: the Hindus who stick spears through their cheeks also…interesting stuff.

Interesting for sure, but it is also a teeny bit unsettling to think that our perception of reality is so loosely weaved that it can be unraveled by a person skilled in the craft - hypnotist, shaman or dominee!

One has to wonder how and why this capacity to become hypnotized came about. I see no obvious survival benefits. Maybe it’s the Peacock’s Tale of evolutionary psychology. Yes, that must be it: the young women who were once our ancient grandmothers thought the men who could dance themselves into the deepest trance around the tribal fire were particularly sexy.


The concious/subconcious split may have other survival benefits, the susceptibility to manipulation may just be a side-effect of something that evolved to help us in other ways.

Listening …

I’m just speculating.

Well, there’s the obvious split between autonomous survival functions – e.g. heartbeat, breathing, digestion and metabolism – that don’t require conscious brain effort, and voluntary survival functions – e.g. taking appropriate action when avoiding danger – that do entail conscious deliberation and decision-making. It would be extremely wasteful of various resources if autonomous survival functions required conscious effort.


Sure, but these things are usually involuntary and non-cognitive. I doubt that a hypnotist can make, say, your liver stop (even if it is funny), or have any other effect on the parasympathetic functions. Brian’s example of the man that could be used as a bench only when “under” involved his (normally) voluntary muscles, even if those muscles were under involuntarily control at the time of hypnosis. In general, it looks like the hypnotist’s tinkering results in voluntary cognitive functions switching over to involuntary cognitive functions.

Since we’ve now established that we can make such a switch between usually voluntary functions into involuntary functions, my question relates to the usefulness of being able to do so.

We therefore need an example of how a normally voluntary function becoming involuntary will help the organism. (Reflex doesn’t count, 'cause that’s just a short circuit).


We therefore need an example of how a normally voluntary function becoming involuntary will help the organism.
Hmm. Let's see. shitting yourself...easy peasy! Involuntary functions such as sweating and shivering are easily induced under circumstances that don't warrant it: e.g. shivering in the heat and vice versa. Survival and usefulness? I would suspect that if one could get a subject to "switch off" senses in certain threatening situations, you would be able to increase the chances of survival:e.g. reduce heart rate (much like Buddhist monks have been known to be able to do) you would be able to survive extreme cold to a certain degree.????
Hypnosis actually has a long history of helping people manage pain. In the early 19th century before the invention of reliable anesthesia, hypnosis was used in surgery to not only eliminate the pain of surgery, but also to improve the odds of the patients survival.

Hypnosis is still used for surgery to this day and a simple search of youtube will show a variety of videos of people undergoing procedures without the use of any anesthesia.

(source: However one should remember that pain in itself is a survival mechanism…

So if hypnosis can be used in surgery, can it be used in a persons daily life to help manage pain? Absolutely!

Yes, I like that one. It certainly is the case when it comes to perceiving noise … we constantly filter out continuous background noises all the time: factory machinery, traffic, SOs. Maybe the bit of brain activity going on to achieve this desensitized state is not all that different from hypnosis.

But then again, maybe there really is no evolutionary reason behind our hypnotizability after all. Maybe it’s just a non-lethal side effect in the way our brains work, just like allergies are sometimes non-lethal side effects of our immune systems. :confused:


The question was whether the conscious/subconscious split has any survival benefits. I have merely indicated a reason why it does indeed appear to have such a benefit, namely the freeing up of cognitive and physiological resources for potentially more immediate and critical tasks. The further speculation was that the susceptibility to hypnosis is a side effect of that split. None of the aforesaid in any way was meant to address the usefulness of susceptibility to hypnosis. One may as well wonder about the usefulness of our susceptibility to sensory illusions as a side effect of our having sensory capacities.

Besides, the split isn’t as black-and-white as a naïve appraisal would suggest at first gloss. Within limits, we are able to regulate our breathing rate at will, or cease it altogether for a short while, through an act of will. There are also well-documented cases of people being able to regulate their heart rate through concentration. It would appear that the more evolutionarily primitive/essential a biological function is, the more difficult it is to subject it to conscious control. For instance, I know of no cases where people have been able to affect their metabolic rate by exerting conscious focus on it.

Maybe hypnosis works by somehow tuning down self-awareness to a significant degree, thereby altering the normal IO filtering between the higher and lower brain without the higher brain relinquishing much control — but I’m guessing here.


Yup, that’s true. I was assuming advantages in phenomena where there really need not be any.

It’s called the Overzealous Evolutionary Fallacy. :smiley:


LOL! Still, many instances of the fallacy can be obviated by observing that the benefits of having a particular trait outweigh the disadvantages that may arise from having it.

I guess that would turn them into instances of the Economics-101 Evolutionary Truism. :wink: